It’s a cookbook, it’s an art book. It’s a cookbook and an art book. It’s the glorious, delectable, Kenvin — An Artist’s Kitchen: Food, Art & Wisdom of a Bohemian Cowboy.|1|
By Utah artist Kenvin Lyman, who died two years ago at age 68 after a fall in his home, and published posthumously, this lovely volume was at least a dozen years in the making. The book started as a project for his mother, as a collection of Lyman’s own recipes for inclusion in a family history. The author notes that his mother did not live to see the book completed but: “The roots of my relationship with food began with her and my dad and back through generations of Pioneer ancestors — farmers and ranchers who tilled the soil . . . and then respectfully prepared and enjoyed the bounty of their labors. . . . Traditional farm food is the prototype for today’s local, sustainable food movement.”
He and his wife, Sofia Angkasa, farmed an urban quarter-acre home lot in Salt Lake’s Avenues district, growing most of their food year-round. “We grind our own grain. We grow our own grapes and make our own wine. We preserve fruit for the winter months . . . We invent and, with the help of our friends, test our own recipes. . . . the pleasure of these processes gives a depth and meaning to our lives.” And in the end he chose his friends well: people like photographer Mikel Covey and former Salt Lake Tribune World Desk editor Pepper Provenzano, Tribune food columnist Vanessa Chang, his creative business partner Richard Taylor, elder brother and artist Fred, his wife and others helped shepherd this book to publication after Lyman’s death.
In the March 2011 edition of 15 Bytes, Frank McEntire wrote a piece about Lyman shortly after his death, the touring light shows he put together in the Sixties — Flash and Edison Visuals with Covey and Rainbow Jam with Taylor — (they performed with The Grateful Dead, Santana, Ike and Tina Turner and more); the internationally known Dazzleband Studios where he created, among other innovative graphic products, the concert posters that are now collectibles (two for Led Zeppelin are included in the book).|2|
And the artwork certainly is something to savor. Lyman makes no secret of his influences: Monet and the original French Impressionists, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin. (And Rimbaud, Bob Dylan and Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, too.) His use of intense color truly has more in common with the Post-Impressionists (with a touch of Pop) than it does with acid rock. While he deftly creates a realistic bunch of just-pulled carrots |3|, a farmer bringing in the wheat |4| and more, he also relies on Impressionism to convey his message throughout much of the book. And it works superbly. Whether it’s a Japanese tablescape, an elegant dessert, or a bottle of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky,|5| his loose work draws us in nicely to his text. Hard to imagine one without the other — it’s a package deal.
This could be the great American cookbook. Or the great Utah cookbook, which is all it aspires to be. That is, if it could get over being an art book. While it has everything from soup to ice cream, with some politics (particularly about state liquor laws and their impact on winemakers and thereby on Utah’s food culture) and philosophy thrown in, it will fit nicely on your coffee table but not readily on your kitchen counter. It contains some 125 recipes — but nearly twice as many images in the form of lush illustrations and photographs. As with any good art book there’s an index to the illustrations — but not to the recipes. Confusing to cooks, one would imagine. And the lovely vintage canning recipes are not all in one place but scattered about, frustrating if you are someone (like me) who prefers canning to cooking. And then there’s the curious incident of the recipe for putting up one quart (that’s one single quart) of pickles.|6| It’s not only difficult to locate again, but no one likes to can that much, I don’t imagine. Maybe there are some serious pickle connoisseurs out there or someone who is really into tracking down the (recommended) antique blue Ball jar to put the cucumbers in, but all that effort for just one quart of pickles? I don’t think so.
This is a book for hunter-gatherers: most recipes start in the garden; some begin with a rifle. Fresh produce, fresh game, whole grains. The instructions are clear and fairly simple, if somewhat labor intensive. The very first recipe tells you how to churn your own sour cream butter, either the old-fashioned way or with a blender, mixer or modified balloon whisk which Lyman tells you how to make.|7| There are variations: Watercress Butter,|8| Toasted Shallot Butter, Zesty Chipotle Butter. You later learn how to bake the bread to put it on: Sweet Cornbread, Wild Rice Cakes, Flatbread, Simple Crepes, and Uncle Mel’s Sourdough Biscuits (from starter to finish). There are fabulous breakfasts, imaginative salads, rich soups and stocks, interesting main dishes (Bacon-Roasted Capon;|9| Meatloaf Stuffed with Marrow, Black Walnuts and Capers; Lake Bass with Braised Fennel; even Rocky Mountain Oysters and Garden Snails |10| should those things for some reason appeal to you), wonderful side dishes you will want to make part of your repertoire (Mahogany Onions; Red Lentils with Mustard), jams, salsas, cheeses, desserts, a few beverages; a mint sauce for lamb that must be made — all tested by Susan Massey and edited by the discerning food writer Virginia Rainey.
It’s from Gibbs Smith, whose logo is: “To Enrich and Inspire Humankind.” This book surely does that, from many angles. Smith is to be congratulated on his belief in Lyman and the possibilities here. The necessary $50 price tag may keep some in Utah (it may well have a good national market, too) away from The King’s English and other such locales; a few will need to resort to Amazon’s discount, which is kind of not the point of Lyman’s buy-local philosophy. However you manage it, this is one you really should own. You’ll probably want to keep it in your living room for the artwork and copy out the recipes that you choose to use in your kitchen. It will so be worth the effort.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She also worked for Salt Lake City Weekly and has written for such publications as Utah Business Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine.